December 12, 2022
There's nothing like the Christmas season at Dollywood. Every year, I'm drawn back to the Smoky Mountain Christmas festival. It's so tastefully put together with Christmas lights galore (more than 6 million), heartfelt theater performances and melodious Christmas songs trailing through the park. It really puts me in the Christmas spirit. Last year, I realized Dollywood changed my view of Santa Claus: to me it seems the park portrays Santa Claus as an embodiment of the Christmas spirit of kindness and generosity. I challenge you to look for and embody that spirit, too. Be more like Santa Claus.
Since this realization, I've been back to Dollywood and am even more convinced that I'm not the only one who senses this Christmas spirit at the park. I have a couple more stories to share that bolster this theory: first, I witnessed a gesture of kindness that was so satisfying and warming that I'm compelled to tell you. Second, in visiting Dollywood's chapel service, I heard a message that puts everything in perspective.
It was a damp, cold winter morning. Like most Dollywood guests, I boarded the tram to take me from my parking spot to the gate. Any warmth of the sun was hidden behind blankets of clouds. I had my layers on, so I was prepared, but there was a young teenager who sat a few seats down from me who did not have layers-just a t-shirt. He had his arms wrapped around himself, trying to conserve any warmth he had. A woman sitting a row behind him spoke up. "Do you have a coat?" The boy shook his head. "You look cold. May I buy you a hoodie?" The boy smiled, probably slightly embarrassed. I sensed he wasn't quite sure if he should take her up on the offer. "I insist," said the lady. "When we get in the park, follow me to the Dollywood Emporium. I will buy you a hoodie. I want to."
It was evident these people did not know each other. This act of kindness is exactly what I mean when I say we should all be more like Santa Claus. She could have just been concerned about herself and the people she was with and focused on the day ahead, but she was aware of her surroundings. That woman selflessly extended a gift of kindness to a stranger. I'm so glad I got to witness this, and I was inspired by her gesture. I began to wonder what additional acts of kindness I could observe, and if I, too, could extend kindness to another.
Every Sunday, Dollywood offers a nondenominational chapel service in the rustic Robert F. Thomas Chapel. I recently attended for the first time, and I was greatly encouraged by the variety of people gathered to humbly recognize the true source of Christmas.
The chaplain asked for volunteers to assemble a choir. We sang traditional Christmas hymns together, and then he proceeded to share his message. He spoke about the season of advent and the true hope we have at Christmas (and always) through Jesus Christ. He brought to light how Jesus was born on an ordinary day. There were no special proceedings. People went about their business-such as the shepherds out attending to their flocks. It was a day in the life. To their great surprise, suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and then a multitude, sharing the good news of Christ's birth. Dollywood's chaplain then challenged those gathered: Christ can show up and change everything-even on ordinary days and in dark seasons of our lives. We need to open our hearts to him and receive the hope found in Christ.
I had never before pondered how Jesus simply showed up to this world on an ordinary day, and it had me thinking about how we don't need any special day to extend our own acts of kindness and generosity to others. We can model Christ's example by showing up and surprising others in the ordinary days of life. It does not have to be Christmas or a special event. Like the lady on the tram, we need to harness that Christmas spirit and be on the lookout for ways to extend these acts of kindness and generosity to one another all the time. The Christmas season can be a great time to get in the practice of being alert and seeking these opportunities. May we develop this practice and carry it with us throughout the year. If we accept the love that was given to us through Christ as the chaplain challenged, and extend it to others, I believe we will find the world a better place! As Dolly Parton sings in her song, "I Still Believe" from her A Holly Dolly Christmas album (Deluxe Edition), "I believe there are good deeds to be sowed Nurtured with love to make them grow I believe faith can heal our bodies, minds and souls."
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